New Jersey Devils wish playoff hero Adam Henrique well in Anaheim -- but not too well

ByGreg Wyshynski ESPN logo
Thursday, November 30, 2017

New Jersey Devils general manager Ray Shero asked center Adam Henrique for a chat on Thursday morning. It seemed routine. It wasn't.

"I was shocked," said Henrique, who was traded to the Anaheim Ducks in a package for defenseman Sami Vatanenon Thursday. "It wasn't something I was expecting. In the back of my mind, maybe going into this season, maybe at some point, maybe closer to the trade deadline ... [but] you generally don't see trades like this go down early in the season."

That's because, generally, you don't see a team like the Ducks staggering around the first two months of the season as the NHL's unofficial infirmary unit, but also one with a glut of defensemen. And, generally, the Devils haven't been a team that could deal a center like Henrique because they considered him surplus.

But here we are.

Shero and Anaheim general manager Bob Murray first spoke about this around the expansion draft, when it appeared the Ducks might lose Vatanen or defenseman Josh Manson to theVegas Golden Knights. Instead, they shipped defenseman Shea Theodore to Vegas and the Knights agreed to select another defenseman, Clayton Stoner, in the expansion draft. And yet the Ducks still had a surplus.

"He could have an excess of forwards. I could have an excess of defensemen. It's a good trade, because we both have needs," said Murray. "It wasn't easy for us to give up Sami, because he competes so hard. It probably wasn't easy for him to give up Adam, either."

Well, it was and it wasn't.

In drafting both Nico Hischier and Pavel Zacha, Shero wanted young talents for his top two center spots. (Although the jury remains out on Zacha.) The emergence of Jesper Bratt and Brian Gibbons on the wing, the acquisitions of Taylor Hall, Kyle Palmieri and Marcus Johansson ... all of it pointed to Henrique, a holdover from the Lou Lamoriello years in Jersey, being expendable, and especially for a defenseman like Vatanen.

Shero had coveted Vatanen since watching him play in world juniors with Finland, where he showed himself to be a top-four defenseman with speed and good puck movement. But before pulling the trigger, Shero needed another expert opinion -- a Finnish one.

As chance would have it, Shero got a visit from former NHL player Tuomo Ruutu recently. The GM has known the Ruutu family for years. So when the Devils were closing in on the trade with the Ducks, Shero picked Ruutu's brain -- without telling him why. "I called him out of the blue and asked him about Sami. He had very, very positive things to say about him," said Shero.

When Ruutu saw his advice had possibly resulted in a trade? "He texted me this morning and said, 'Holy cow, that was quick,'" said Shero.

Yet despite the return, dealing Henrique wasn't easy. He's a celebrated member of this franchise, not only for his consistent play on the ice but for his work in the community as an ambassador and fundraiser.

And then there was that goal.

The Devils weren't supposed to win the Eastern Conference in 2012. No one anticipated the goaltending renaissance of 40-year-oldMartin Brodeur. who led themthrough three rounds, a last line of defense behind a patchwork defense. Yes, they had Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise and Patrik Elias, but by no means were they the Stanley Cup favorite that the first-place, 109-point New York Rangers were.

But the Devils played for the Stanley Cup in 2012, thanks to a flick of the stick from a 21-year-old rookie named Adam Henrique in overtime of Game 6, which eliminated the Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals. New Jersey had lost four of the five playoff series it had played against its hated rivals from across the river. Henrique's goal stands with the Stanley Cup winner from Jason Arnott and others as one of the most memorable in team history.

Henrique finished third for the Calder Trophy that season. In 2015-16, he scored 30 goals. But his production has fallen in the past two seasons. At 27, Henrique has been through a few different incarnations of this Devils team, and hence different incarnations of his own role.

"That team has had to evolve and they've had to rebuild. He's had a changing role there. With us, it puts him back into a more offensive role, which I think he's going to love," said Murray.

There's no question Henrique needed a refresh. And while the Devils wish him well, Shero also knows his history.

This trade is an odd role reversal for Shero and Murray, who made a similar deal when Shero was with the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 2009, Shero traded a surplus defenseman, Ryan Whitney, to the Ducks for their surplus forward,Chris Kunitz, who went on to win three Stanley Cups.

So when Shero sat down with Henrique to inform him that his time as a Devil was over, he also told him that good times are ahead.

Just don't be too good.

"It might have been one of the longer talks I've ever had with a player I've traded," said Shero. "I told him he has another level. But I told him if he finds another level, I don't want to see him actually inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame or something."